CrossRiver Watch activist and publisher Agba Jalingo, who was arrested by police at his home in Lagos and taken to Abuja allegedly on the orders of the wife of the younger brother of the Governor of Cross River State, speaks with GODFREY GEORGE about his experience
What led to your recent arrest by the police?
A petition has been written against me by Elizabeth Ayade, wife of Frank Ayade, younger brother of Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade. She claimed I was slandering her. I had written a story against her in the CrossRiver Watch. The report did not go down well with them. They’ve been angry about it. They said they would sue me for libel. A lawyer wrote me a petition. But somehow they wanted to criminalize the case, so they sent the police to arrest me. The police officers came all the way from Abuja to Lagos to arrest me, and they took me to answer the petition. That was the beginning of the matter.
On Saturday, August 20, 2022, some agents, who introduced themselves as men of the State Criminal Investigation Department, came to my house. They met my wife and daughter downstairs and demanded to see me. I was upstairs and they insisted they want to take me. I wasn’t sure who they were. They could be kidnappers; it could be anyone because they were on mufti. So I insisted that I call to confirm if there was an arrest warrant.
Did they give you the time to do that?
They called for backup and some policemen came from Alapere. These were armed. They surrounded the entire building. Finally I came down and followed them to the Alapere Police Station. We spent a short time there before departing for Area F, Ikeja, where I slept until the next morning, before starting the journey. On August 20, 2022 we went to Abuja via United Airlines.
What happened when you arrived in Abuja?
They made me incommunicado. People who came to see me at the airport were not allowed to. They used decoy vehicles to cut them off. So no one knew where I was. That was the plan of the person who bought their services. They took me to this Federal Capital Territory Command. It was a ghost town, a very large two-storey building that was deserted when we got there on Saturday. They did their regular documentation and took me to the slaughterhouse detention, where I was left for a while. People walked from station to station, looking for me in vain. But I think there was pressure from outside and finally they came that night around 10 or 11pm to ask for me. When we got to their office they said I would get bail. I called a relative who came and vouched for me, and we left the place. They also told me to come back on Monday (August 22, 2022), which I did, but the complainant was not there. She sent her lawyers to tell the police she was traumatized and in the hospital and couldn’t come.
Have you received a libel suit from the complainant or her lawyers on this matter?
None that I know.
About the story you published, people are doubting its authenticity. What is your response?
I am a reporter. I know and do my job very well. That’s all I can say about that. If they’re in doubt about anything, they know what to do, don’t bother me with the police. This is not the first time. The first time I wrote a story about a microfinance bank in Cross River State and how that same family got snagged, people asked me the same question. Governor Ayade sent people to arrest me, accused me of terrorism and others, and we went to court. After three years of trial, I was fired and acquitted. To this day, no one has been able to prove that I was wrong in what I wrote. They know exactly what I’m saying. They don’t question my ability to tell the truth. They know what happened. They’re just trying to intimidate me. I can’t just wake up and lie to people. I am a well-educated journalist.
Do you have plans to file a lawsuit?
Of course I’m going to court. I am suing Elizabeth, the complainant, her husband, Frank Ayade and the police because they were the ones who came to arrest me illegally because they had no reason to do so. I will charge and merge the police and the complainant for violating my fundamental human right. I’m also going to write a life threat petition. I don’t feel safe anymore. I have the feeling that my wife and daughter are no longer safe. They held them hostage for about 35 to 40 minutes before I came down. My staff in Calabar was followed by non-state actors. They had to call for help and wait for the police to bring a truck to take them from the office to safety. I don’t feel safe and I have a strong feeling that it’s the governor’s younger brother and his wife running after me and my staff, and I won’t fold my hands and do nothing. They have no immunity. The governor has about eight months of immunity; the brother and wife have no immunity whatsoever and I will not allow them to intimidate me. I feel threatened and will invite the police to come and do their job as they have done for her.
The police said they invited you to respond to the petition, but you did not honor it. Is that true?
It’s a claim. It’s a lie because I didn’t see an invitation. I have also confirmed from my office that no invitation has been sent to my office in Calabar. At no point in my life have I run away from law enforcement. This couldn’t have been any different. If I had had an invitation, I would have called my attorney and honored him. That claim is a lie.
It is true that the police apologized to you for the incident as stated by Omoyele Sowore?
That was a conversation between the police and Sowore. He’s the one who said that. He would be in the best position to answer this. This has nothing to do with apology, in fact. When people break laws or when there are legal issues, apologies are usually not the right way to go. I was taken to the police with a claim. If the complainant is not available to prove any of these allegations, I believe it is an infringement of my rights, and I have decided that I would take the appropriate steps, which is to go to court.
The police are supposed to be our servants and enforce the law. But in Nigeria, they are known as the elite militia. They serve as an armed wing protecting the elite and some members of the middle class. We don’t have a Nigerian police yet, but we do have VIP police – people who are there to protect very important people. I give some credit to the current Inspector General of Police. I can attest to the fact that he goes to great lengths to see how they can clean up the image of the Nigerian police on the periphery. I have hope that one day we will build a police force that will be responsible for protecting everyone. We are not there yet. But we must continue until we have a Nigerian police force.
I can’t understand why FCT police officers would be sent to Lagos to pick just one person who was not invited to answer for any crime. Usually the first thing they would have done was send me an invite.
You have been married for 14 years. How does your wife take all this?
We know ourselves. We knew what we were signing and we are doing well. There will certainly be anxious moments, but she’s fine. She understands the person she’s married to, and she’s fine with it. She is a strong woman; she is not broken. She’s very good. She is also an activist deep in her heart. She hates injustice and identifies with what I do.